Review of Rohan Kriwaczek's book, discussing the history and aesthetic of Funerary Violin
When confounded music scholars, skeptical journalists, and bewildered historians began investigating the unknown Guild of Funerary Violinists and its peculiar history, they discovered that the entire premise was a hoax. Despite the intricate details, black-and-white photos, artistic engravings, presentations of old letters, and complete music scores from renowned Funerary Violinists, Kriwaczek’s book remains a work of sheer fiction; a zealous creation from the author’s overactive imagination, which captured the attention of and fooled both his publishers and readers.
Now that the truth of An Incomplete History has been revealed, though, people can simply enjoy its creative entertainment without feeling troubled by doubts about its veracity. And actually, that Kriwaczek manufactured nearly all of the facts, people, and events discussed in the book makes his work even more impressive.
Beginning with the conception of the Guild of Funerary Violinists in 1586, Kriwaczek takes the reader on a journey through the centuries: highlighting the traditions of the Guild; imparting the aesthetic of the Art of Funerary Violin; detailing the lives of the greatest and most influential Funerary Violinists; depicting the horrific events of the Great Funerary Purges of the 1830s and 1840s; and sharing his obviously deep adoration for the violin and its somber sound. Kriwaczek also weaves throughout his tale minor pieces of information, which add to the overall effect and impression of the obscure history of the Guild. For example, the Guild’s motto is Nullus Funus Sine Fidula, which means “No Funeral Without a Fiddle.” And there is even a mention that Ludwig van Beethoven partially plagiarized “Trauermarsch” by Ulmer Diederich (a Funerary Violinist in Munich) when he composed his third symphony. I imagine it’s a very good thing that Beethoven is not alive to read such a libelous statement, given his infamous temperament.
Aside from its fascinating information, one of the greatest elements of An Incomplete History is the manner in which Kriwaczek writes. His language is elegant and passionate and aids in the transportation of the reader into this netherworld of beautiful solemnity. In one section, Kriwaczek quotes a speech supposedly made by Charles Sudbury, as he accepted his appointment of President of the Guild of Funerary Violinists on 1 November 1829. The words dance so beautifully together that their inspirational tone immediately touches the soul:
...And yet I come back to the Breath of God that was given to Man in the Spirit of Music. For though it has not the power to resurrect the body once its task is done; in the hands of a Godly master, well versed in the sacred secret rites of the Funerary Violin, it can draw up the Soul from its purgatorial torment, and send it, through a ritual of confession and atonement, cleansed of all Sin, to sit beside the Lord on high. Have we the right to reject this gift, now that it is given? Surely we are duty bound to raise our violins to God with every beat upon our hearts, with every single breath, and play with all the morbid subtlety our very Souls can muster, to demonstrate our Faith, and purify the many generations that the priests have left below without a thought. With such a gift comes grave responsibility. We must take the Art of Funerary Violin to every house of God, to every churchyard, and pray with all the music we can muster, for the many lost souls who are doomed to drift for all eternity without our intervention...
While An Incomplete History of the Art of Funerary Violin may be nothing more than a spirited ruse, its stunning presentation and captivating tales leave the reader wishing that the Guild actually existed; that a Funerary Violinist could readily be employed to attend a loved one’s burial. Perhaps Kriwaczek’s invention will inspire a new breed of performers to create the Guild that never was.
If you wish to hear the sonorously somber sounds of the funerary violin suites, you can hear clips of various pieces on the Guild of Funerary Violinists web site at http://www.guildoffuneraryviolinists.org.uk/.